All the songs within our Sacred Scriptures are holy; however, Shir HaShirim – the Song of Songs - is the holy of holies. (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on Shir HaShirim 1:1)
On the night of the Seder, we tell a story of love between the Compassionate One and Israel - the people who represent the human story. After concluding the Seder, there is a custom to chant Shir HaShirim - an allegorical love song which describes the relationship between the Compassionate One and Israel. This song was composed by Solomon - the king and prophet who built the Temple in Jerusalem. To dramatize the story of Israel, King Solomon tells the allegorical tale of the fervent love between a man and a woman, their unity through marriage, their intense longing for one another after they are separated, and their steadfast hope to be reunited. In this allegory, the Compassionate One is the "man" and Israel is the "woman." The romance begins with the Exodus from Egypt, and through the Covenant at Sinai, the "bridegroom" and "bride" are united. The idea that Israel is the bride of the Compassionate One is also found in the following Divine Proclamation which the Prophet Jeremiah conveyed to Israel:
"Thus said the Compassionate One: 'I recall for you the lovingkindness of your youth, your love as a bride, when you followed Me into the wilderness, into an unsown land.' " (Jeremiah 2:2)
The above verse is referring to the Exodus, when Israel, the bride, left Egypt and entered the wilderness. (Targum, Rashi, and other commentaries)
The love between Israel and her Beloved during the Exodus is also described in the following allegorical passage from Shir HaShirim, where the Beloved calls upon Israel to leave the land of bondage:
“My Beloved lifted His voice and said to me, 'Rise up, my love, my beautiful one and go forth! For the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The blossoms are seen in the land, the season for song has arrived’ " (2:10-12)
This allegory can be understood in the following manner: When my Beloved redeemed me from the bondage of Egypt, He called out and said to me, "Arise, O Israel, My love, my beautiful one, and go forth from servitude! For the winter of bondage has passed, the deluge of suffering is over and gone. The righteous blossoms are seen in the land, the time of your song has arrived. (Targum, Rashi, Metzudas David, and other commentaries)
In the opening chapter of Shir HaShirim, the maiden suddenly turns to a group of other maidens and addresses them as "daughters of Jerusalem" (1:5). Who are these "daughters of Jerusalem"? The classical commentator, Rashi, cites the tradition that they are the nations of the world, and the reason why they are called the "daughters of Jerusalem" is because Jerusalem - the spiritual center of Israel - will also become the spiritual center of all the nations. Rashi adds that a similar metaphor is found in the following Divine promise to Jerusalem regarding the nations of the world (Ezekiel 16:61): "And I will give them to you for daughters." (Rashi’s explanation is found in the Midrash Rabbah on this verse.)
In the closing verse of Shir HaShirim, Israel calls out to her Beloved:
"Flee, my Beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young hart upon the mountain of spices" (8:14).
This allegory can be understood in the following manner: Flee, My Beloved, from our common exile and be like a gazelle or a young hart in Your swiftness to redeem and rest Your “Shechinah” – Divine Presence - among us on the fragrant Mount Moriah, site of Your Temple. (Rashi)
According to our tradition, the Shechinah represents the "feminine" aspects of our Creator. The above verse is therefore alluding to our reunion with both the masculine and feminine aspects of the Compassionate One.
Following our joyous reunion and the resting of the Shechinah on Zion, our sisters – the “daughters of Jerusalem” - will return to the Compassionate One, as it is written:
"Sing and be glad, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming, and I will dwell in your midst - spoke the Compassionate One. Many nations will join themselves to the Compassionate One on that day, and they will become a people unto Me, and I will dwell in your midst" (Zechariah 2:14,15)
“I will dwell in your midst” – My Shechinah will dwell in your midst (Targum).
Have a Unifying and Joyous Festival,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The idea that the Holy and Unifying Temple is the goal of the Exodus is expressed in the following verse from the Song at the Sea, which we sung after the sea split and we were delivered from the pursuing Egyptians:
“You will bring them and plant them on the mountain of Your heritage, the foundation of Your dwelling-place that, You, O Compassionate One, have made – the Sanctuary, O Master of All, which Your hands established” (Exodus 15:17).
In this spirit, we sing a song at the Seder known as “Dayenu” which mentions the fifteen steps of our journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the last step is the building of the Holy Temple.
2. When we renew our relationship with our Beloved, we will once again be like a bride, as it is written, “Like a bridegroom’s rejoicing over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). And the renewed relationship will last forever, as the Compassionate One proclaimed:
"I will betroth you to me forever; and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, with justice, with lovingkindness, and with compassion; and I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you will know the Compassionate One." (Hosea 2:21,22)
3. Ashkenazi communities also chant Shir HaShirim on the Shabbos of the Intermediate Days of Passover. It is chanted to a special melody.